Tag Archives: 3D printing

3D Printing: Myths versus reality; today versus tomorrow

3D printing continues to be one of the most disruptive technologies of the era: it looks set to transform everything – age-old manufacturing techniques, hardware supply chains (why warehouse parts when you can print them on demand?), healthcare etc. Just a few years ago, the hype said everyone might have a 3D printer in their house one day, but the reality is that the technology, while ground-breaking, is still complicated. We take a look at a few areas covered recently under the 3D-printing banner in the popular press.

Can you 3D print organs?
No, you cannot 3D print organs today. There are some printers which can extrude (i.e. print) biological matter, and there are indeed research and development efforts to print human tissue, but, in 2017, these represent a very, very small portion of the $5B 3D-printer market. However, the technology is catching on big-time in other aspects of the medical world. One of the key advantages of 3D printing is that it can be used for mass customisation, meaning that one machine can make many subtly unique things. The best examples of this are hearing aids and clear dental braces, both of which have been made by 3D printers for more than fifteen years.

prostetic-1273183_1920There are many of these items produced, and each is unique to an individual patient. Likewise, orthopaedics is a big market for 3D printing. You are probably aware that plastic limbs are 3D printed, but super-high-end metal printers are being used more and more often to make internal prosthetics as well. Hardly a day goes by without a story being written about the production of a titanium skull section or another bone being replaced with a custom-manufactured metal part. These are realities today, not just R&D projects for tomorrow.

Can you 3D print food?
Sort of. This was one of the things all the hype focused on a few years ago. Most of the printers simply extruded different pastes into shapes. True 3D printing is also sometimes called additive manufacturing (the seven core technologies referred to above are actually defined by a manufacturing body called the ASTM). Today’s food 3D printers are not really used for mass-manufacturing, and the number sold to-date is so small as to be hard to count. So the 3D printing of food is really a PR activity rather than a real market (or even sub-market).

Can you 3D print cars?
While a few companies have showcased their ability to 3D print cars, there isn’t yet a car you can buy that that is completely made this way. That said, there is hardly a car you can buy today which doesn’t use 3D printing for some element or part of its construction: the technology may have been leveraged for prototyping the vehicle at all stages of development, or – more and more often – the intricate metal components may be mass-produced using 3D printing.

The automotive industry at large is ripe to make greater use of 3D printing as the falling cost of technology and materials allows additive manufacturing to move beyond the prototyping that was once its niche application, into the much larger market of general manufacturing or mass-production.

The crossover point, where it is less expensive to use 3D printing than traditional manufacturing techniques (such as injection moulding), can be hundreds of thousands of units or, now, even tens of thousands. Mass production in the automotive industry generally refers to much lower volumes than for manufacturers of say smart phones or televisions: if you consider specific companies and their distinct models of car (many of which do not share common components), then mass production can mean tens of thousands of parts (versus millions) – a volume now viable with the reality of today’s 3D printers.

Can you 3D print buildings?
This one continues to catch a lot of media attention, especially in the Middle East and emerging markets. You can indeed use some of the techniques of traditional 3D printing at VERY large scales to, for example, extrude cement instead of plastic. To be honest, however, this is not really part of today’s 3D printing market, and with the references to “3d printing” made mostly to help describe the technique used to create structures layer-by-layer.

Can you 3D print jet engine parts?
For sure. The best use case of 3D printing today, the poster child if you will, is in GE’s jet-engine fuel nozzle. This complex, unique part can only be made by metal additive manufacturing – traditional techniques are not capable of creating such an object. GE continues to be one of the world’s biggest users of 3D printing and is so bullish about the technology that it is buying metal 3D-printing companies to make machines not only for their own use but also to sell to others. The aerospace industry as a whole is one of the largest markets for 3D printers today, with the technology now being leveraged for true mass-production of parts as well as prototyping.

by CC

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3D Printing running shoes: Why the adidas announcement is different!

This month the German footwear brand adidas announced a partnership with 3D Printer start-up Carbon for their Futurecraft 4D program, a new initiative to leverage 3D Printing to make running shoe midsoles. Last year, when first announcing their new Multi Jet Fusion 3D Printing process, HP also announced a partnership with a footwear company (Nike). The past few years have also seen various announcements from New Balance, Under Armour and a host of others. Prior to this announcement from adidas however, most companies touted their use of 3D Printing as a technology to accelerate prototyping or as an “experimental” technology, essentially just beginning to uncover what 3D Printing might be able to do for them. This announcement from adidas takes the industry one step further in that it indicates that it will begin to use the unique Carbon 3D Printing technology (and material) to produce the running soles for its new line by firstly making 5,000 pair this year and then 100,000 pair by next year.

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This hits at the heart of the next hurdle for the 3D Printing industry, moving away from just prototyping and cracking more into gargantuan manufacturing industry. 3D printing excels in the production of complex parts, in one-off production, in on-demand and in “mass customization” (think hearing aids and invisible orthodontia braces both of which have been made using 3D Printing for a long time). 3D Printing has not been able to compete against tried-and-true manufacturing techniques like injection-moulding (or “molding” as I spell it) for producing say millions of smartphone cases or office chairs (and maybe never will) but for lower volume production it is now starting to make inroads into mass production.

Carbon’s CLIP 3D Printing technology is a twist on one of the original 3D Printing technologies (there are at least 7 core technologies) and is relatively new to the market. The general technology uses a laser or light source to harden a liquid polymer (plastic) resin material layer-by-layer to build a part from the ground-up (or top down sometimes). The twist on this age old technology (technically called Vat Photopolymerization) is that the Carbon printer allows for this process to be sped up considerably and allows for new materials to be used. While adidas and Carbon noted the longer term intention of offering specialized soles for each purchaser (harkening to the “mass customization” abilities of 3D Printing), what is actually more newsworthy is the mass production aspect of the partnership. As Carbon and others speed up the 3D printing process, this is BIG news in the 3D Printing industry which is definitely looking for a spark to help it move into its next phase of evolution, mass-production.

In the sub-segment of metal 3D Printing (which uses totally different techniques), great progress has already been made moving that side of the industry into production (highlighted and validated most recently by GE’s continued progress in the space) but on the Plastics side of the industry, most printers are still used principally for prototyping (or mass customization and the like as noted above). If adidas and Carbon can fulfill on their promise of producing 100,000 running shoe soles next year economically, then indeed the market will we well on its way from evolving from the $5B industry it is today into a $17B industry in the next 5 years.

by CC

 

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Global Desktop 3D Printer Market Rises +27%

According to our latest figures, worldwide shipments of 3D Printers rose +25% year-to-date (YTD) through the first three quarters of 2016 thanks again to shipments of low priced Personal/Desktop 3D Printers.

Of the total 217,073 3D printers shipped year-to-date, 96% of these were Personal/Desktop printers, carrying an average price of just under $1,000.  This represents a 27% year-on-year growth for this sub-category compared to a decline in shipments of -12% YTD in the Industrial/Professional segment which saw only 7,726 units shipped through the first three quarters of 2016. While the market is still largely defined by the shipment of Industrial/Professional printers – which accounted for 78% of the global revenues – the market is clearly settling into two distinctive segments.

Vendor wise, in the Desktop/Personal 3D Printer segment, Taiwan’s XYZprinting remained the global leader so far in 2016, seeing its share grow to 22% through the first three quarters.  This side of the market saw the exit by the #3 global overall player 3D Systems and the continued repositioning of the #1 global 3D Printer market Stratasys of its MakerBot line away from the lowest end.

The Industrial/Professional segment was marked by the official entrance of HP into the space but printers did not begin shipping until the end of the year. While the Industrial/Professional segment has, in general, cooled off in the past few years, the shipment of additive manufacturing devices capable of printing in metal materials was one major bright spot within this category.  This Metal side was not immune to market changes in recent quarters either however, with a slow-down seen in this sub-segment as well in the 2nd half as General Electric (GE) acquired two of the top five metal making 3D Printer companies (Arcam and Concept Laser).

Projections for the full year 2016 remain reserved for the Industrial/Professional market and bullish for the Desktop/Personal market, largely in-line with trends seen through the first three quarters.  Forecasts turn more bullish in the Industrial/Professional sector in 2017 and beyond as the HP and GE ramp results in a return of growth; the Desktop/Personal market is expected to continue its unfettered growth.

by CC

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3D Printing: Gaining Insights at IMTS and TCT

As head of global analysis and research at CONTEXT I probably spend more time than I’d like in front of a computer screen. But as any analyst will tell you, staring at online spreadsheets is only part of the job. To really understand the industry you need to meet the key players that work in it. Trade shows are a major part of this so it was great to get out recently to two of the biggest around: The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago and TCT in the UK.

I gained some invaluable insight into the industrial and personal IT space, meeting key executives at some of the biggest names in the business, engaging with prospective customers and presenting to attendees.

3DP on the rise
IMTS is a six-day event only held once every two years, so you know it’s going to be big. This year around 115,000 attendees came to Chicago from all over the globe and the focus for many was on 3D printing (3DP) and additive manufacturing (AM). In fact, AM now has its own dedicated front-and-centre section at the show, highlighting the major $5 billion contribution it makes to the total global manufacturing tech market of around $12 billion.

General Electric’s acquisition of the number two and four metal 3D printer makers – SLM Solutions and Arcam AB – for $1.4bn last month continues to validate this market. As did the firm’s joint $81m investment with several other players in plastics 3D printer business Carbon3D. Much of the show focused on where AM goes next – ie whether AM for plastics, which makes up 90% of unit volume and two thirds of global revenues, can move from being used principally for prototyping to short/mid-run manufacturing. We also heard about the role of 3DP and AM in Industry 4.0, which will certainly be one to watch for the future.

The number two 3DP market player, 3D Systems hosted a full day conference at the show where new president and CEO, VJ Joshi introduced an almost entirely new management team to analysts, press and partners. Apart from discovering that he’s brought many of them with him from HP, where he ran the imaging business for two decades, we learned that Joshi has no interest in the 3DP desktop/personal market, which he sees as a distraction.

Meeting and greeting
I’m glad to say the show was a great success in terms of helping to promote what we do at CONTEXT. At the EOS event at IMTS I joined a one-hour Q&A panel on AM, fielding a healthy number of questions and following up with a bunch of interested attendees informally afterwards. I also had meetings with some of the hottest companies around in the space, including HP, Carbon3D, Concept Laser – number two in metals – EnvisionTEC and others.

There was more of the same at TCT in Birmingham, UK. The show focuses on the personal/desktop as well as the industrial/professional market, so there was time to take in showcases from the likes of Ultimaker, Zortrax, MakerBot and Polaroid. Some key takeaways include the delay of the Mattel printer, the forthcoming shipment of Mcor’s repositioned desktop paper/colour printer and new or increased presence from HP, Ricoh and others. On the industrial side, there seems to be a growing number of so-called “hybrid” machines sold by the likes of Sodick which offer AM and traditional manufacturing in one machine.

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According to CONTEXT research I presented at the show, the personal/desktop market grew in 1H16 but contracted on the industrial side as management changes and new entrants continue to make an impact. Metal 3D Printing remains a bright spot in that market side along with power-based plastic printers.

CONTEXT will be hosting a 3D Printing Breakfast event at CES in Las Vegas on Thursday, 5th January 2017. To register or for more information, please contact: Theo Gibbons.

by CC

 

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Why Makers are not Consumers in 3D Printing

The mainstream curiosity for 3D printing seemed to hit its apex between 2012 and 2014: a period in which the market witnessed sizable growth with sales of personal/desktop 3D printers doubling each consecutive year. Sales subsided a little in 2015 when there was year-on-year market growth of just 33% rather than the 124% seen from 2013 to 2014. Demand remains, however, as shown by lower prices, new brands entering the market and the emergence of even lower price points. The interest in this area is especially evident from recent Kickstarter campaigns from Tiko and OLO, both of which set records and saw pre-orders in excess of 16,000 units each!

But who is buying these printers? General, at-home consumers? Surely not. To the uninitiated, 3D printing can seem novel and fun and, no doubt, some uninformed consumers have purchased devices only to be disillusioned by how hard they are to actually use. This is what separates Consumers from Makers. Makers like to tinker and “make” things (not just consume them). For example, one of the details of desktop 3D printing that is rarely talked about is the effect that the materials used have on how easy the printer is to use.

I am a maker who purchased a 3D printer over a year ago and I use my printer on a daily basis, with my usage growing all the time. Here is what I’ve learned. I purchased a delta-style FDM printer (the most popular type of desktop machine) and have come to recognize that even when considering only the various plastics suitable for material extrusion printers there is quite a variety and each operates in its own way.

Materials include nylon (very durable, but vulnerable to water), acrylics (for smaller items with much detail), PET and its derivatives (to make plastic bottles and food containers), ABS (made from petroleum products, strong and durable) and many others, such as glow in the dark plastic or even clay for making crockery. Some personal 3D printers can also create objects in “wood” which is, of course, actually a mixture of plastics and wood filament that can be melted without burning.

elephant

The most popular material for personal 3D printers is biodegradable thermoplastic PLA, produced from renewable resources such as corn. It is the best material for beginners as it sticks well to the surface of the printer’s bed (build plate), solidifies quickly, and provides fairly predictable results. I would recommend those who are taking their first steps in 3D printing use the same material until they start to get a feel for their printer. Once someone has chosen to become a 3D printing maker, learning the qualities of different materials is a priority because it is essential that the temperature, printing speed, extrusion rate, retraction distance and so on are adjusted to the correct levels for each material. Many of these adjustments can (or cannot) be done by way of “slicer” software – another nuance of desktop 3D printing that keeps it from becoming more mainstream.

FDM printers not only have different plastics that require different trial-and-error settings, but different brands’ versions of the same materials are often different (because manufacturers may use different additives, for example). The final print result may vary, even when using material from the same manufacturer, when a different colour is used.

As a result, when trying out a new material, there is always a risk of layers sagging or the printer nozzle becoming clogged. The same can happen if the wrong temperature is selected or as a result of inaccurate bed levelling. There is no WYSIWYG in desktop 3D printing, that’s for sure.

While these nuances might be quite frustrating for a general consumer, such tinkering is what makers live for. This is what makes 3D printing a hobby, which I continue to enjoy. The great variety of materials available creates a vast landscape where those who love new technologies and love to experiment can find many exciting turns and challenges and develop new skills. Here designers and engineers can implement their ideas and fulfill their ambitions – the possibilities are limitless!

by NF

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HP’s first 3D Printers are Evolutionary but their entrance into the market is Revolutionary

Earlier today, on the 17th May at the RAPID 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing conference in Orlando Florida, HP Inc announced the first products to use the company’s new Multi-Jet Fusion (MJF) 3D printing technology, previously announced in 2014. The first two products, set for delivery later this year, are the Jet Fusion 3D 3200 and the Jet Fusion 4200 and allow for an open platform of print materials with initial focus on Nylon. Prices will start from $130,000. As planned all along, HP’s entrance into the 3D Printing industry will be on the Industrial/Professional side as opposed to Desktop/Personal side of the market, leveraging value-added resellers capable of sales and services of these machines into defined vertical market segments.

The technology offers some great evolutionary steps in terms of speed, ability to control materials at a voxel level (a voxel is the 3D equivalent of a pixel in 2D printing or in displays) and the ability to eventually use a multitude of different materials. While HP states that its technology is uniquely different, many engineers have noted it to be most like existing Powder Bed Fusion 3D Printers. HP’s Jet Fusion printers indeed are powder based and the material is eventually fused together (instead of being “glued” together) but HP’s technology is unique. Whether or not the technology is revolutionary is too early to tell, however. As the Jet Fusion printers make it to market, and as service bureaus and manufactures alike begin to actually use the Multi-Jet Fusion technology for finished good part production, only then will it be determined how revolutionary the technology is.

What is revolutionary is that a household name like HP has now entered full-force into the 3D printing market with clear intentions not just to dominate each sector in which it participates, but to open up new markets. HP is already talking about future Jet Fusion 3D Printers which will allow for color, offer the ability to print in ceramics and even print embedded electronics.

HP is entering a market still largely centered around the production of prototype parts. The move into finished good production has been mostly by way of the growing Metal 3D Printing sector, with machines finding their way on to shop floors more and more each day as companies such as GE and Boeing use Metal 3D Printers to make finished good parts. Metal 3D Printers sit at the very high end of the market with price points ranging from $500K-$2M+. Although HP will not initially play in the metal side of 3D Printing, the company is keen to point out that its new printer line can offer final part performance in a variety of other materials.

by CC

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Spotlight on 3D Printing

The Global 3D Printer market saw great changes last year with some high profile companies in the additive manufacturing market scaling back their expectations for the newer, desktop side of the market.

Over the course of 2015, the total market saw a growth of +30% in terms of total printers shipped marked by a +33% year-on-year growth for Desktop/Personal printers but -9% fewer Industrial/Professional 3D Printers.

In the Desktop/Personal 3D Printer sector, Taiwanese vendor XYZprinting remained the global leader in Q4’15, extending its share to 31% for the period and 21% for the full calendar year. The 2nd half of the year witnessed the de-emphasis of the sale of Desktop 3D Printers to consumers by former market leaders Stratasys/MakerBot and 3D Systems/Cubify, a mantle picked up by others including XYZprinting and M3D. The period also witnessed the largest crowdsourced effort to date for 3D Printers with the pre-sale of over 16,000 units of the $179 Tiko 3D printer, expected to arrive during 2016.

The Industrial/Professional portion of the 3D Printing market struggled as anticipated in Q4’15. This Industrial/Professional side sector continues to be characterised by a wide range of technologies and price points, catering to a number of vertical markets with no one technology offering a silver bullet for all applications.

Since the 3D Printer industry consists of a wide range of prices for the various types of 3D Printing technologies, the market is often benchmarked not only on units, but also on revenue from the sale of printers. Doing so helps to show the growing importance of Metal 3D Printing overall with 2015 seeing three of the top five vendors all mostly concentrating on metal additive manufacturing (EOS, SLM Solutions and Arcam).

Looking into the future, we are forecasting the total global market for 3D Printing including not only printer Hardware, but also Materials and Services to grow from $4.1B in 2015 to $16.2B by 2020.

We will be hosting a short market briefing this Thursday (21st April, highlighting both market figures and vendor rankings in the 3D Space. To register, simply click here.

by CC

 

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